Monday, April 8, 2013

Washington Musings (Not Conference)

I know that most of my fellow Mormon bloggers are going on about conference. It was a great conference, and I’ll get to it sometime.

But first: I spent last week on vacation with my family. We visited some of our kids and then ended up in Washington, DC, one of my favorite vacation destinations. We’ve been multiple times with our kids and we will definitely go again. To those of you who live so far away that a trip to Washington is a burden, I offer my sympathy. Washington is America’s museum city between monuments, historic sites, and, of course, museums.

We saw two monuments we have not seen in previous trips: The FDR memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial. Both were awesome. I was particularly (and surprisingly) moved by the FDR memorial. I’d read about it, but was surprised by its size and scope. Here is a president I did not know in my conservative youth, but I suspect I would not have liked him much then. As I’ve aged, I’ve grown more politically liberal and more sympathetic to what he did. As I walked his monument, I thought about the issues the nation faced during his long terms of service as president. And I thought about the kind of men and women who serve our nation in political office.

It is exceptionally easy to be jaded, to assume cynically that people serve for their own benefit. Indeed, I have no doubt that they do. In my BYU American Heritage class years ago, I learned that our founding fathers counted on the fact that some would serve in an effort to gain power, and that was built into our system. But as we fire darts at our political opponents, I hope we also remember that in the end it is public service they render.

I am not particularly politically active. I vote, of course, but I rarely campaign for a particular candidate. I have contributed to some campaigns, but do not do so regularly. I do write to my congressman and senators from time to time on issues of importance to me. And when I do, regardless of their position, I thank them for their public service.

I learned a lesson about this issue many years ago. When my family joined the church, Orrin Hatch’s mother was my Sunday School teacher. He was in law school and his son was in my classes at church. Years later when I ended up at BYU, Orrin had just been elected to the US Senate. I ran into his son at BYU and I made some offhanded joke about the easy life of a politician. His son gently corrected me and described the work his dad did each day.

For me, one of the most reverent spots in Washington DC is in the Lincoln Memorial. I love to read the words of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s second inaugural address inscribed on the walls of that monument. This time I noticed the paintings about those inscriptions – on representing the emancipation of the African slaves and the other the reunion of a nation torn asunder. Of course we revere Lincoln for his work in preserving the Union and for his ultimate sacrifice. But many others also give their lives in service of the nation they love, even those who do not die in office.

I am grateful for those who serve, and for the nation that they serve.

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